First Impression~ Wrong Assumption

This morning Greg and I managed to get to church early despite the snowy roads. We don’t get there early often but it’s always a treat to be able to visit with friends and grab a cup of tea before the service. While chatting with a leader in the coffee area I saw an elderly man trying to get around us to grab a little snack of fruit that had been put on platters for the taking. As this gentleman got closer I tapped on my husbands arm to alert him not to back up on this gentleman who was standing so close by.

From the corner of my eye I observed him; he looked a little out of place, a little awkward, and just a little disheveled perhaps. I wondered about him as I had not seen him there before. I wondered if he was alone, maybe homeless and I found myself putting him in a “category” based on my first impression.

Imagine my surprise when he walked right over to our conversation, stood there and said, “ I wanted to introduce myself; this is my first time attending Westside Church.” He then went on to share (in his European accent) that he was visiting from Silicon Valley; has two successful daughters who live in Bend.   We continued chatting and it became evident that he was a brilliant professional, well spoken, and kind. In fact, he was involved with a hefty robotics contract with Google in California.

As we all made our way into the service I was struck by my ability to make such hasty judgments about people! I was disappointed that I had made assumptions, incorrect assumptions about this dear man. Sad to confess but I don’t really know if we would have had such an engaging conversation if he hadn’t initiated it.

As I listened to the speaker share a powerful message from the stage of the power of loving people in “the way of Jesus” knowing that left to my own human nature I fall prey to internal judgments and assumptions that keep me from being “Jesus with skin on”.

I was reminded of a story I heard a long time ago:

Pastor Jeremiah Steepek  ( pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”

He then dismissed service until next week.

 

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Lord, may my biases and assumptions cease as I am filled more and more with Jesus. Amen.

 

Can we have an honest chat?

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Have you ever had a “down” day?  Have you ever felt “blue”?  I have and I’m sure you have too.  There are times when the challenges of life feel like they are crushing in on us, there are times when situations catch us so off guard that it sends us into a sad tailspin for days or even for a short season.  The ebb and flow of life can bring both sadness and joy.  Even King David had some “blue” days where he cried out to God “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10).

However, what if you found it impossible to move past those “blue” feelings?  What if you’ve tried everything you know to be happy and positive but the heaviness you feel remains?   What if anxiety and depression have become and unwelcome guest on your life journey? Shouldn’t you be able to fix it with enough faith in God?  What’s wrong with you?

Peter Kramer in his article; It Can’t Be Depression, I’m a Christian tells us:

“Christians feel guilty about being depressed. They feel they should “know better.”  This leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage them to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”

But clinical depression and anxiety isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”

What if your depression and anxiety required some form of wisely administered medication to assist you in regaining that needed chemical balance? This is where we get religion and physical health mixed up?  With every other physical challenge, thyroid issues, asthma, cancer, heart disease, etc, we find it completely acceptable to require medications to bring greater health and healing, yet historically  the church can get really uncomfortable when medications are required for greater mental health.

Carlos E. Whittaker, a pastor, in a recent article says;

Common myths in the church as it relates to mental illness are:
1. A person struggling with mental illness needs to have more faith.
My faith and my serotonin levels have nothing to do with each other.
2. A person struggling with mental illness should forgo medicine and pray harder.
You wouldn’t tell an asthmatic to pray harder during an asthma attack. You would tell them to suck on that inhaler.

If you are a person who struggles with regular anxiety and depression then you are probably nodding your head in agreement.

Years ago, as a very positive type of person,  I was shocked to find myself in the midst of postpartum depression! I loved my baby.  Why couldn’t I shake off these feelings? Didn’t I have enough faith?  I was ashamed to tell anyone about how I felt and I didn’t know how to make it stop!  Finally, I got some much-needed help and over time I re-gained my emotional balance.

God understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need might include professional counseling and some form of medication. After all, God created the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin to take them if you truly need them. Sometimes simply making better choices for food, rest, and relaxation rhythms can be all that’s required to move us to a healthier place. Sometimes we need greater intervention.

You may agree with me or disagree with me, and that’s okay. However, as a Pastor’s wife and a Coach for many years,  I have heard the shame in the voices of those who struggle with the depression and anxiety; this breaks my heart.   Add their need for medication  and the shame triples! I don’t believe they should feel any shame; I don’t believe they are faithless people.  I believe God cares deeply and wants His church to express His heart to hurting people in the midst of a very difficult struggle.  I know you do too.

If you struggle daily with depression or anxiety; please get the help you need. Find someone to talk to, get some medical support, and refuse to let shame or embarrassment keep you from living a life full of purpose, peace, and joy.

Romans 12:15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

We can be so clumsy~

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I love the Christmas season; it can be such a joy-filled time.  But, every Christmas hasn’t been a time of celebration for me; there have been a Christmas or two that have been really tough to get through. The darkest Christmas season for me was the first year after my dearly loved nephew had passed away.  My heart was broken and full of unanswered questions. Celebrating felt odd, it felt wrong.

Over the past month I have seen many blogs expressing that we need to be especially careful and mindful of those who are experiencing a Christmas season that is full of difficulty.  Sending “Merry Christmas” cards may not be the best choice.  Pictures of all our happy celebrations on Facebook might be insensitive….

Certainly, it is valuable and necessary to celebrate joy, to share love with those around us, and to express thankfulness for all the blessings in our lives BUT how do we do that while being kindly sensitive?

I don’t have all the right answers, but I think we can be clumsy.  I would never infer that we would choose to be insensitive; yet I think that we can be…especially in this season. Perhaps, if we just asked the Lord for extra wisdom He can help us navigate this season with celebration and grace.

For the mother that just lost her child, for the woman whose husband is suffering, for the family that just lost their home, for the couple whose marriage feels hopeless, and for those who are simply lonely……I will try not to be clumsy with your heart; especially in this season.  Please forgive me if I miss the mark.  😦